This review contains a lot of spoilers throughout!
I have to say that The Emperor's Knife has the most gripping beginning/prologue I have ever come across. Absolutely amazing! It is unapologetically morbid and a little chilling, instantly making me want more.
The beginnings of the book were very promising ... royal intrigue, a dark magic looming and just a touch of Arabic flavour to it all. I felt quite drawn to Sarmin and thought his character and storyline had quite a lot of potential.
However, I just felt that things went a little odd.
Firstly, characterization, or lack thereof. Very few of Williams' characters were given any kind of depth or were ever consistent in any way. In fact, I would go as far as saying that in some cases it was so terrible and off the mark, that characters would blatantly act against their nature and start channeling a new personality altogether. Eyul was perhaps the worst - going from a loyal companion and confidant of Tuvaini, being obviously swindled by the Hermit, sort of falling in love with the mage and then killing her and then swapping sides a few more times before being killed in the most anticlimactic way known to man. Lord knows what the hell was going on with Beyon or Tuivani either, because I sure as hell couldn't tell what their motivations were.
Because of this, character relationships were also adversely affected. For instance, a woman in a trans tries to stab Sarmin and five pages later he is irrevocably in love and cannot be parted from her, as if she was an integral part of the story from the beginning, and not just thrown two thirds of the way through. Mesema's crush on Banreh was equally as confusing.
I've read several other reviews of this book that praise the characterization as a strong point ... I don't really know how to respond to this, but I think they may be confused between characters and characterization. The Emperor's Knife has a great cast of characters that had a lot of potential, but none were aptly described or given enough consistency to make them substantial.
While I actually enjoyed the story itself quite a lot, it does move a little too fast and loses a lot of detail that could have made it epic. This is especially the case when it comes to the Pattern Master, who only surfaces in the final pages and is then killed. I would have liked to have seen it drawn out for much longer. Everything in this book, most of all the relationships, needed fleshing out and more time to develop.
Some elements remain a little confusing and unexplained ... I still didn't pick up on the magic and logic behind the Pattern, it's use and creation. The Knife also remains a mystery. I'm hoping however that these things will be addressed in the sequel.
Did anyone else pick up on the uncanny similarities between this book and Feist's Magician? A neighbouring nation called Kesh, a people called the Cerani (similar to the Tsurani) and an elemental called Ashanagur that is one with Govnan (much like Ashanshugar that is paired with Tomas).
I've been quite critical in this review as there are some major flaws and downfalls in this book, but I have to say that in regards to the essential story and the writing itself, it was an easy and enjoyable read. The best I can say about it is that it has/had a lot of potential and considering that it is a debut novel, I'm hoping William's work can only get better from here. Knife Sworn will be on the list to read in the near future!